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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 5, 1993

Agricultural Organisations of Nelson 1843–1893

page 14

Agricultural Organisations of Nelson 1843–1893

The basic need of Nelson's European colonists from 1841 onwards was for land suitable for agricultural and pastoral purposes.

The leaders of the settlement were conscious of the crucial part this would play in the ability of the community to be self sufficient and to become prosperous.

From the start people took pride in the growing of vegetables and fruit, and looked on anxiously as newly established farms began to produce crops and to support stock.

As part of the first anniversary celebrations there was a vegetable show in the Institute and a ploughing match using bullocks.

On 18 March 1843 the Nelson Examiner published a lengthy report of a public meeting held on 11 March to form an association to beautify the township and help the farming community to improve their farm stock. The meeting was held in the Institute and there was a good attendance with Alexander McDonald in the chair. The resolutions included the establishment of a society, to be known as The Nelson Agricultural and Horticultural Association, to promote the welfare of the colony and to develop its resources. There were to be three exhibitions each year; in spring, autumn and on the day of the Anniversary Fete. The committee of sixteen included many of the influential men of the day; Captain Wakefield, H A Thompson and Frederick Tuckett, The association's rules and regulations were published on 24 June 1843.

The deaths of several of the committee at Tua Marina and the troubled times that ensued caused a severe check to the Association's activities. It remained inoperative for several months.

The 1844 anniversary celebrations included a show in the British and Foreign school-house in Bridge Street on 2 February. The items on show included fine samples of grain and also hop and tobacco plants.

On 16 April 1844 a meeting was held to take the requisite steps to place the Agricultural and Horticultural Society in a condition to carry out the objects for which it had been established. A subcommittee was formed which added a number of bylaws and reduced the subscription from one pound to ten shillings.

The changes were adopted by a general meeting and the officers elected included William Fox as president and William Cautley as secretary.

An autumn exhibition was held on 2 April 1845. Horticultural produce and grain were exhibited in Francis Otterson's former house in Bridge Street. The exhibition of stock, the first to be held, was in the yard of the Immigration Barracks.

The Nelson Examiner commented that, although the number of cattle shown was not as great as might have been desired, the quality was excellent. Many had recently been imported from England at great cost to their owners.

A further lapse in the activities of the Nelson Agricultural and Horticultural Society then occurred, and a meeting was held on 1 July 1846 to gauge interest in its revival. The meeting was informed that Governor George Grey had offered to subscribe ten guineas to the Society if it was revived.

Grey had proposed sending a collection of trees and shrubs from the Government Gardens in Auckland. He also offered to be the president and suggested that shows be held at a similar time to those in Wellington, so that he could attend.

Grey's generosity decided those present to unanimously agree to the re-establishment of the Society.

The next event was an exhibition in March 1847. There was initial uncertainty about page 15the timing, as the date of Governor Grey's arrival was not known. He arrived on 7 March and the exhibition took place over two days.

A ploughing match was held on the 10th at John Saxton's Stoke property, with separate competitions for horse and bullock teams. Grey attended, although suffering the effects of a cold, and gave five guineas towards the prize money.

The horticultural and agricultural sections were held on the 11th and particular mention was made of an excellent sample of wheat from a Maori exhibitor. The reporter expressed the hope that all would be stimulated to increased exertion in garden and on farm and pa, so that the following year's report would be even more favourable.

Drawing by J. W. Saxton of his farm, venue of the 1847 ploughing match. Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

Drawing by J. W. Saxton of his farm, venue of the 1847 ploughing match. Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

The Society's Annual General Meeting was held on 27 August 1847. David Monro expressed his opinion that the colony was not sufficiently advanced for an agricultural society to be of much benefit. He thought that the horticultural branch might be carried on and extended.

Discussion followed on the establishing of a botanical gardens, and it was then decided that in future subscriptions and prize money would only apply to the horticultural section. Exhibitions were to be held in April and December, with the annual dinner following the December show.

The Nelson Horticultural Society continued its activities from then on without the agricultural component.

The next attempt to get agricultural interests together came in an advertisement in January 1852. It proposed an Agricultural Association to encourage the breeding and rearing of good stock and the use of improved systems of cultivation. Those in favour were to contact George McRae or Alexander Ogg.

A meeting held at the Star and Garter in Richmond on 7 July 1852 decided to form the Nelson Agricultural Association.

This meeting followed the holding of a sale by the Richmond Cattle Fair Association. These sales had begun in 1851 and, from November 1852, were held on land belonging to the Cattle Fair Association. Cattle sales were held several times a year and the Association was finally wound up in 1889.

The next sign of the Nelson Agricultural Association came with the report of a meeting held in the Richmond Mechanics Institute on 6 October 1859. A revival of interest page 16was evident, with membership at nearly 100. A government grant had been received and a show of livestock was arranged for December on the Richmond Cattle Fair grounds.

This event took place on 8 December 1859. It unfortunately occurred at the same time as the laying of the foundation stone of Nelson College. Nevertheless there was an exceedingly good attendance of visitors at the show. The livestock was good, but the judges felt that there was other really good stock that had not been shown.

In the evening the members and their friends dined in a large marquee erected behind the Star and Garter, with Fedor Kelling in the chair. Kelling was the secretary of the Association.

The timing of the annual shows changed to the autumn, with the next one held on 5 April 1861. This time there were classes for grain, hops, vegetables, cheese and butter, and there were displays of agricultural implements and machinery. The newspaper commented on the immense amount of fun and entertainment exhibited in the little village of Richmond. The judges agreed that stock was of a much better quality than had been seen previously.

For the 1864 show the Nelson Agricultural Association used its newly-built hall for the display of produce. The hall had been built on the Richmond Cattle Fair Association's grounds under a special arrangement. It stood over the road from the Star and Garter.

Standards began to slip and the 1865 show was judged a dead loss. In the opinion of The Colonist 'If the farming community desire to see the Nelson Agricultural Association maintain a position deserving of the name, then they must support it. Unless they do so, they will see it dwindle to a skeleton or a mere fossil.'

Autumn shows were held in 1866, 1868, 1871 and 1872 with mostly indifferent results. It may be that farmers had other things on their minds, such as breaking in their farms. Sir David Monro spoke on the desirability of supporting the Association at the dinner which followed the 1868 show. It was important not just for their own success but for the greater good of the province as a whole.

In 1873 the Association held a sheep show in November. A number of breeds were exhibited and a shearing competition was held. Alfred Allport complained in the newspaper that fleece weights had not been fairly judged.

Another sheep show was held in November 1874 and a general show in 1875. Attendance at the latter suffered through poor weather and the Nelson Evening Mail slated the paucity of exhibits. The editor castigated farmers for jogging along in a careless and indifferent manner. They showed no desire to bring about an improvement in the state of affairs existing in agricultural districts.

Some of the horse classes were good and Stoke residents showed some good sheep and pigs, but cattle were very few. The success of Stoke was attributed to the work of the Farmers' Club which had been established there.

Poultry was poor and farmers' wives were judged to be as indifferent about the quality of their poultry yards as were their lords with regard to the larger and more valuable stock.

The editor explained that his harsh remarks were prompted by a desire to be truthful rather than flattering. No one would derive greater satisfaction from seeing the annual shows become something of which the province could be proud.

The advantages that would accrue were too obvious to need stating, but success could never be secured by the efforts of an energetic few. The committee were deserving of every credit, but they had to have the support of the whole farming community.

The Association also organised annual ploughing matches, and Charles Canning's Rostrevor property was the venue on 27 July 1876. There were twenty five competitors page 17
Charles Canning.Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

Charles Canning.
Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

and about 300 knowledgeable spectators. It was judged most successful in achieving the Association's aim of speeding the plough.

The November show was also held on Canning's property, using a six acre paddock adjoining the Richmond railway station. A special train brought people from town and the Artillery Band entertained the crowds. Luncheon was held in a goods shed.

The Mail's scribe praised the new venue, contrasting it with the cramped, unsuitable fair ground with its dark hall. There had apparently been a difference of opinion among the stewards over the change, but the evident success showed that the right decision had been made.

General exhibits included local hops, wine and leather. Entries in the dairy section were more numerous, with keen competition. Cattle were in greater numbers but showed little improvement. This was because no new blood had been brought in for some time, with the exception of a bull belonging to Charles Canning.

The sheep were the most creditable part of the stock exhibited, especially the Romney Marsh and Leicesters. The efforts of the secretary, Mr Malcolm, and the stewards were commended. The day ended with a ball in the Agricultural Hall.

The 1877 show was held on 9 November, the Prince of Wales' birthday. The public holiday, combined with fine weather and a special train, saw an attendance of almost 3,000.

page 18

The arrangements were excellent and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day out. Sporting events added to the entertainment.

The exhibits, however, fell far short of what was desirable. The continuing failure to import new stock meant that there was little likelihood of improvement in the future.

Charles Canning was praised for again making his land available as a venue and for his efforts, along with the other volunteers in organising the show. The Mail expressed the hope that farmers would back these efforts and take the trouble needed, if the Agricultural Show was to achieve the success it deserved.

The hope proved a vain one, as the 1877 show was the last one held for sixteen years. The Nelson Agricultural Association continued to be listed in directories, with J W Barnicoat as the chairman but no further activities were reported.

A new era began in October 1893 when George Talbot, the mayor of Richmond, called a public meeting and the Nelson Agricultural and Pastoral Association was formed. The first show was held on 29 November 1893 at Richmond Park, by arrangement with the Nelson Jockey Club, which had bought the 100 acre site from Charles Canning in 1884.

Sources: This article was prepared from research notes left by Mr W C R Sowman. Sutton, J. How Richmond Grew. 1992.